Games played with Latin suited cards

The four latin suits are swords, batons, cups and coins. In each suit there are normally three picture cards - a king, a horseman and a jack or maid - and some numeral cards. Cards with latin suits are commonly used in Spain and in parts of Italy, North Africa and South America, and are also found in several other places. There latin suits cards in common use can be divided into two main types: Spanish suited and Italian suited.

sword 7 baton 6 cup king coin horse In the Spanish suited type, the batons are knobly clubs or cudgels and the swords and batons are drawn separately on the pip cards.
sword 7  baton 6  cup king  coin horse Cards with Spanish suits are also used throughout the southern part of Italy.
sword 7  baton 6  cup king  coin horse In the Italian suited type, used in the northeast of Italy, the batons are straight ceremonial sticks, and on the numeral cards they intersect to form a trellis. The swords are mostly curved and intersecting on the pip cards, though they are straight on many of the picture cards.

Two other rarer types are generally recognised:

  • The Portuguese type, in which the numeral cards have straight intersecting swords, and knobly intersecting batons, and the aces sometimes have pictures of dragons.
  • The archaic type, in which the numeral cards in the swords suit have slightly curved non-intersecting swords.

The terms Italian, Spanish and Portuguese can be somewhat misleading.

  • The Spanish type of cards are used not only in Spain but also in many parts of Italy, in northern Africa, in parts of the west coast of France and in Latin America.
  • The Italian type is used in north-east Italy, and is also found in Croatia and in the Trappola cards that were used in central Europe until the mid twentieth century. This style of suits also occurs in the Tarot cards used in northern Italy and Switzerland.
  • Latin cards are no longer used in Portugal, which has gone over entirely to French suits. Descendants of the Portuguese style survive tenuously in the cards of some oriental countries, such as Japan, which had contact with Portuguese traders in the past.

It is probable that the earliest European cards, brought to Italy and Spain from the Islamic world in the late fourteenth century, had latin suits. The batons may originally have been polo sticks.

The main places where various types of latin cards are now used are as follows (please follow the links to the country pages for details of the games played in each place).

Spanish suited cards
In Spain, these cards are in general use. They are normally sold as a 48 card pack, with numerals 1 to 9 and court cards labelled 10, 11 and 12, though many games use only 40 cards, omitting the 8 and 9.
A 48 card Spanish style pack is also used in western France for the game of Aluette.
In the parts of Italy a 40 card pack in the Spanish style is used for the usual Italian card games such as Briscola and Scopa. These cards are sometimes called Italo-Spanish; different designs of this pack are associated with Naples, Sardinia, Sicily, Piacenza and Romagna.
The 40 card Spanish pack is in use in several north African countries.
The 40 card Spanish pack is found in many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru.
A 112 card Spanish pack is used in the Philippines for Cuajo.
Italian suited cards
The Italian style of cards are found mostly in north-east Italy. There are distinct patterns based in Venice, Trieste, Bergamo and Trento. Usually they come as 40 card packs with nuerals 1 to 7 and three picture cards in each suit, but they are also made as 52 card packs with numerals 1 to 10 for certain regional Italian games.
Italian suited Tarot packs have the usual four Italian suits plus a special series of trump cards. These are described on a separate page.
Trappola packs have 36 cards: ace, king, knight, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 2 in each suit. It is clear from the style of the cards as well as the history of the game that they originated somewhere near Venice, but this game spread northwards to central Europe - especially Germany, Austria and the Czech lands, and the Italian suited cards travelled with it. Trappola cards ceased to be produced in the mid twentieth century, though related games survive tenuously using substitute packs.
In North America, some types of Italian suited cards can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.
Oriental cards based on Portuguese designs.
Several types of these cards are or were used in Japan and Korea. The designs have evolved to such an extent that they are barely recognisable. The standard reference on the history and development of these cards is the book "The Dragons of Portugal", by Sylvia Mann and Virginia Wayland (Sandford, Farnham, Surrey, UK, 1973).